What is the Best Way to Begin songs?

begin songs - Songwriting FlowchartHere is a question from a songwriter regard how to begin songs.

Do you need to have music before you can write the lyrics or do you work the music around the lyrics?

This is one of the most common questions beginning songwriters ask. Keep in mind that songwriting is a unique craft that bring words and music into unison.  Words are matched up with a melody to create a song.

The short answer is you can begin either way.  You can begin with the lyrics or begin with the melody.  Every songwriter has a preference.  There is no right or wrong answer in regards to how to begin songs.  Regardless of how you begin songs the most important is to get started.

Different Methods to Begin Songs

This website, Learn How to Write Songs, conducted a poll to see how songwriters begin songs.  As expected there are many ways to begin songs.  What was discovered is that about 36% of songwriters begin songs with lyrics.  The second popular method at 23% was to begin with a chord progression.  The third method was to begin with a melody at 18%.  As you can see there are different ways to begin songs. You can look at the poll result by going to this page The Most Popular Ways to Start Songs

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.  Let us explore each method

The Lyrics First Method

Most songwriters begin by writing lyrics. It is perhaps the easiest way to start. Songwriter’s can build on an idea or concept. They can write out the words and develop a strong story line.  Obviously, lyrics use poetic devices such as meter and rhyme to build a song.  Also, each section can be developed to create a plot. These are some advantages with lyrics first songwriting.

Here are a few disadvantages with lyrics first songwriting.  First, as a wordsmith sometimes we can use too many words.  When it comes time to match up the melody the possibility of major edits and rewriting can occur.  Of course changing words even slightly can alter a song meaning.  Another issue is matching meter.  Meter is the stress or accent point in words as placed in a sentence.  A word that works well when only spoken could end up in an appropriate spot in the melody.

The Chord Progression Method

When starting with a chord progression it allows the songwriter to create a mood or feel for the song.  This method can also be a precursor toward developing a song melody. With a chord progression the songwriter can create a harmonic backdrop from which to play with words and phrases. As a songwriter play a chord progression, a beat or rhythm of the song can be developed.  Finally, from the various notes used in the different chords can be a type of outline for the melody.

The disadvantage of starting out with a chord progression can be any of the following things. A song could lack focus unless there is a specific idea behind the start of the song.  Also, it could take longer to develop lyrics and melody.

The Melody First Method

Songwriters, especially music composers, prefer to start with a melody.  Melody is a series of notes comprised of pitch and rhythm. A good melody with have a few motif ideas. From these motifs a melody is developed. As you know music is played through time. This time is measure by time signature, tempo and measures.  Melodies can be very precise and predictable.  Melody is usually what captures the listener’s attention.

Some of the disadvantages to this method of “melody first” can be the following things. Since the music present a very precise and predictable framework, it can sometimes be difficult to write words to match the melody. The strict nature of a melody may hinder ideas because the melody cannot unify with the lyrics.

Okay so How Do You Begin Songs?

This is such a common question. My best advice is to start with what you are most comfortable with.  If you are a wordsmith, start with lyrics.  If you are a music composer, start with a chord progression or melody. The answer to this question is kind of a “What Came First – The Chicken or The Egg” type of question. The reason is there is not one single answer to the question.  In the end my encouragement is “Just Start”!

Don’t get hung up on the method just work with what works best for you. Just know that as a songwriter being skilled in each of these methods is required to finish a song.  If you are lacking in one of these areas you must either learn the skills or find someone who is skilled.

If you have a question regarding the craft of songwriting please submit them at Song Question.  Also, if you have other thoughts or ideas relating to this topic please make comments below

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  • Songwriter Tip:

    Melodic construction of choruses roughly follows the lyric structures, however there is a tremendous variety of rhythmic and phrasing options available. A lyricist should always keep in mind that there is great flexibility in pop music in the ways that lyrics can be stretched and spaced and positioned relative to the music, and looking at a lyric on paper only gives us a part of the story.